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Sunday, November 3, 2013


(Njabulo Madlala. Pic: Timmy Henny)

The National Arts Festival has named an unprecedented eight young South Africans winners of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award, bringing to 125 the total number honoured since Standard Bank began sponsoring the Awards three decades ago.

The Award is made annually to young South African artists who are either on the threshold of national acclaim, or whose artistic excellence has enabled them to make international breakthroughs. “Celebrating excellence, innovation and a refined technical skill and artistry rests at the heart of the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards. Each of this year’s winners represent the vibrancy and sophistication with which South Africa’s artistic and cultural legacy continues to be enriched” said Festival Artistic Director, Ismail Mahomed.

Durban-born baritone Njabulo Madlala has been named by the National Arts Festival as the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for music.

Madlala is the 2010 winner of the most prestigious prize for singers in Britain, the Kathleen Ferrier Award. He is also the winner of the Singers Section at the 2012 Royal Overseas League Competition, of the 2012 Lorna Viol Memorial Prize and the Royal Overseas League Trophy for the Most Outstanding Musician From Overseas, the Sir John Manduell Award for an Outstanding South African Musician, The Kenneth Loveland Gift Prize, and of the 2012 Worshipful Company of Musicians Award. Madlala has been a Britten Pears Young Artist, a Samling Foundation Course Young Artist led by Sir Thomas Allen, and a young artist at the Ravinia International Festival in the USA.

The 31 year old Madlala explains his journey: “Right towards the end of high school and when career decisions had to be made, a chance came for me to be part of the chorus in a production of Carmen, produced by the Spier Arts Festival. At the time I had very little option. There was no money, so I wasn’t going to university; and it was a job, which could now sustain my family! That production – uCarmen eKhayelitsha – went on to tour the world and, still singing in the chorus, I set off for London.”

In 2002, while in London, Madlala won an International scholarship to fund his studies, graduating with a Masters Degree in Music from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama; and completed a further year in the studio at the Cardiff International Academy of Voice.

Since graduating, his engagements have included title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni with Mid Wales Opera touring England and Wales, Don Fernando in Beethoven's Fidelio, Bello in La Fanciulla del West and Schaunard in La Bohème (both Puccini) for Opera Holland Park, Moralès in Bizet's Carmen for Dorset Opera, Peachum in The Threepenny Opera at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, Rangwan in Delius's Koanga at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Fisherman in Bird of Night for ROH2, Don Giulio in Rossini's L’ajo nell’imbarazzo at the Barga International Festival in Italy, Porgy in Porgy and Bess at the Cheltenham Festival and Mel in Tippet's The Knot Garden at the Montepulciano Festival in Italy. Alongside opera, Madlala has made a special study of recital repertoire and appears regularly on international concert and festival stages.

Born to a single mother, Madlala credits her as his source of strength. However, he says the love of music came from his Grandmother Phumzile (Eunice) Ngidi, who passed away in 2009. “You could always hear her singing and humming folk songs and lullabies across the house, while doing just about anything. Some were songs she sang with other girls in her youth when they went to fetch water or to get wood for the fire. I went to bed listening to her singing and there was something truly special about her voice; I still get goose bumps to this day when I think about that.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be involved with music and for the gift of sharing its beauty and messages with other people,” he adds. “Music brings us all under one umbrella and gives us the opportunity for us to discover ourselves as human beings. It fills a gap that nothing else can. I am really grateful for music and how it has always shaped and saved my life. I want to use it to make this a better world.”

He is the founder of Amazwi Omzansi Africa (The Voices of South Africa) project, which creates a platform for South African musicians to give back to their communities. “We want to take part in educating and creating future audiences for what is perceived as a European art form (Opera). We want our people to know what we are doing and understand it, so that they will want to come to the theatre without fear.” explains Madlala.

“The Standard Bank Young Artist Award has an enviable reputation and rostrum of colleagues who have been a great inspiration to me for so many years, and I am therefore honoured and excited to be joining them. I have wanted this opportunity since I can remember. I love London - I am really inspired in this city as there is so much going on, but this award is something that comes from home.”

For more on his work visit and